Book Review: Deep Survival

Book Review: Deep Survival

Laurence Gonzales wrote one of my favorite books about business and career management that’s not about business or career management. In Deep Survival, he set out to answer a simple question: when it comes to accidents or catastrophes, why do some people survive, and some don’t? What are the common traits among the survivors, what is that they do or don’t do that gives them the advantage required to keep living where many others fail to do so?

The author, whose father was the only survivor in an airplane accident among ten soldiers in WWII, wrote a compelling and captivating book about people that have survived the unthinkable, due mostly to their life philosophy. Donna Seaman, from Booklist, writes on her review:

“Relating one hair-raising true story after another about wilderness adventures gone catastrophically wrong and other calamities, Gonzales draws on sources as diverse and compelling as the Stoic philosophers and neuroscience to elucidate the psychological, physiological, and spiritual strengths that enable certain individuals to avoid fatal panic and make that crucial “transition from victim to survivor.”

Learning that it’s simple things like humility and humor what turns victims into survivors, it’s what makes this book so powerful, so human. It’s also what makes it critical for anyone trying to get ahead on their career, or grow their business. We’re all trying to survive in the professional and business world, and this book can tell you if you have what it takes.

Below are some of my favorite excerpts of Deep Survival.

On laughter and play:

“It sounds cruel, but survivors laugh and play, and even in the most horrible situations–perhaps especially in those situations–they continue to laugh and play. To deal with reality you must first recognize it as such, and as Siebert and others have pointed out, play puts a person in touch with his environment, while laughter makes the feeling of being threatened manageable.”

On planning:

“In an environment that has high objective hazards, the longer it takes to dislodge the imagined world in favor of the real one, the greater the risk. In nature, adaptation is important; the plan is not. It’s a Zen thing. We must plan. But we must be able to let go of the plan, too.”

On leadership:

“Helping someone else is the best way to ensure your own survival. It takes you out of yourself. It helps you to rise above your fears. Now you’re a rescuer, not a victim. And seeing how your leadership and skill buoy others up gives you more focus and energy to persevere.”

On being rescued:

“One of the toughest steps a survivor has to take is to discard the hope of rescue, just as he discards the old world he left behind and accepts the new one. There is no other way for his brain to settle down. Although that idea seems paradoxical, it is essential. I know that’s what my father did in the Nazi prison camp: He made it his world. Dougal Robertson, who was cast away at sea for thirty-eight days, advised thinking of it this way: “Rescue will come as a welcome interruption of…the survival voyage.”

On apathy:

“Apathy is a typical reaction to any sort of disaster, and if you’re exhausted in a field of snow at sundown in the mountains, you’re pretty much about to witness the simple disaster of nature separating you permanently from everything you know and love in this world. That apathy can rapidly lead to complete psychological deterioration. Then you sit down and hypothermia sets in, which produces more apathy, a more profound psychological deterioration, and ultimately, death”

On humility:

“To be open to the world in which you find yourself, to be able to experience wonder at its magnificence, is to begin to admit its reality and adapt to it. Be here now. It is to place yourself in relation to it, to say: Before I came here, the world was as it is now; after I am gone, it will be that way still. To experience wonder is to know this truth: The world won’t adapt to me. I must adapt to it. To experience humility is the true survivor’s correct response to catastrophe.”

On survivors of tragedies and life:

“Good survivors, like good wives, husbands, and CEOs, always consider the bleak side of things, too. They plan for them and have an earnest hope that they will manage. But they do not care overly much that they might not. They accept that to succumb is always a possibility and is ultimately their fate. They know safety is an illusion and being obsessed with safety is a sickness. They have a frank relationship with risk, which is the essence of life. They don’t need others to take care of them. They are used to caring for themselves and facing the inherent hazards of life. So when something big happens, when they are in deep trouble, it is just more of the same, and they proceed in more or less the same way: They endure.”

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